Make Room for Peace at the Canadian War Museum

 

In 2005, as a panellist speaking at a local peace-related event in Ottawa, I was asked to reflect on what an “inclusive vision of peace” meant. At that time, about a kilometre away, a new building to house the Canadian War Museum was being built at the cost of about $137 million. I explained that the construction of a new museum building dedicated to war was interfering with my vision of peace.

As a result of that evening, a group of individuals began meeting to talk about what the new museum should include. The museum was not being called the Museum of Canadian Military History and therefore, to be true to its name as a war museum, why would it not also reflect Canadian efforts to oppose war and work for peace.

We did not question the need to honour the sacrifices and contributions made by thousands of Canadians in times of war, but felt that the new museum, with such potential to educate and inform, should also reflect Canadians’ efforts to prevent wars and to promote disarmament and peace. It was always our concern that working for peace not be depicted as only a protest movement but reflect also peace literacy and the growing body of scholarly knowledge being generated through peace studies.

While we acknowledged the value of preserving and studying Canada’s military history, increasingly, our small but determined group (including Penny Sanger, Murray Thomson and several other local activists) began to discuss if and how the new museum would address issues related to Canadians’ involvement in war prevention, disarmament and peace. Would the thousands of visiting school children gain a broader understanding of conflict resolution and peacemaking and, for example, the role of diplomacy, international law and treaties in preventing and ending wars?

The group became known as “Make Room for Peace Committee” (MRFP) and met regularly. We sought and obtained the endorsement of our activism from more than 1000 Canadians from across the country. We met several times with senior officials at the Museum to gain a greater understanding of their plans. We requested and were given a tour of the partially constructed museum to get a feel for the building.

Not long after the War Museum opened, MRFP held a community consultation to discuss early impressions. One speaker who had come to Canada from Vietnam said of the museum “It failed to create an understanding of war, of how to deal with conflicts among groups and nations without using force. It also does not help me reflect on how we can live our life to promote peace and avoid war….How can we know about war if we don’t learn about peace?”

The public meeting also focused on the museum’s displays and whether or not the CWM’s mandate was fully reflected. Ideas for museum exhibits that teach about war prevention, disarmament and peacebuilding were also presented. The meeting was well attended by the public and, to the War Museum’s credit, several senior officials accepted our invitation and were seen taking notes.

After many stops and starts, the CWM did go on to develop and mount an eight month exhibit "Peace - the Exhibition" in 2013, with plans to have a smaller version go on tour. While we can’t be sure, the “Make Room for Peace Committee” likes to think that we had some (very) small influence in helping make room for peace at the new Canadian War Museum.

 

By: Debbie Grisdale

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